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Morning roundup: Iraq, Tunisia, and the Arab soul

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While Monitor reporter Scott Peterson reported yesterday that a contagion of uprisings isn't likely (and I agree with him), it appears that regional autocrats aren't taking any chances. The Associated Press reports that the oil rich Gulf monarchies are about to create a $2 billion fund to help "provide job opportunities for Arab young people in order to empower them to participate fully in their societies." Diplomats told the AP ahead of an Arab economic summit that started in Egypt today that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will kick in $500 million each.

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Tunisia has become the dominant theme of the summit and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa captured the mood with his remarks. "The revolution that happened in Tunisia is not far from the subject of this summit... and it is not far from what is going through the minds of many...the Arab soul is broken by poverty and unemployment."

The contrast between Mussa's comments and those of his former boss, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, were a reminder of how much resistance the aging leaders of regime's like Egypt are likely to put up in the face of change.

While Mussa, who was fired as Mubarak's foreign minister ten years ago largely because of his immense popularity in Egypt and the region, made an impassioned plea for change, Mubarak didn't utter the word Tunisia at all, though he did allude to the revolt, saying it was now clear that economic progress is a "basic demand of Arab national security." It's no surprise that Mubarak might see events in Tunisia through the lens of the security state that serves him. The people of Egypt don't share his view.

Of course, if Josef Joffe is right, Mubarak should sleep easy. Borrowing from both Samuel Huntington and Karl Marx, Joffe argues that the problem for Tunisia's Ben Ali was not that his people were poor, but that they weren't poor enough. After running down indicators that show Tunisia is richer, better-educated, and more-integrated in the global economy than neighbors like Egypt, he writes:

"Such numbers would have made Karl Marx clap his hands in delight. Looking at the Tunisian upheaval he would have cried out: 'I was right.' About what? About the “contradiction” between regime and risers, between an ossified power structure and what he called the 'bourgeoisie.'

If you are poor, you have neither the time nor the energy to engage in politics. If you are not educated, you lack the cultural skills to articulate your demands—to agitate and organize. And, if you are poor, uneducated, and thus isolated, as much of the Arab world is, then you have no benchmark against which to measure your misery."

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